by F.

For my birthday one year, I got a game called Simon. I think I was 11 years old. I didn’t much like it because the tones it emitted were so irritating. I think I played with it for a little while then put it into the toy graveyard.

This sort of dull memory game never appealed to me. I mean, how boring is this? A machine goes BLOOP BEEP BEEP BLOOP BLOP BLOP and you have to imitate it. Fun! And if that’s not enough, you can compete with your friends to see who is more likely to have Asberger’s syndrome. “Mommy! I beat Billy at Simon! I did 53 noises in a row!” “That’s great, son. Now, where did I put the phone number for the psychiatrist?”

Nowadays, you don’t need that clumsy plastic UFO-shaped device to play the game. There’s Simon Extreme, a freeware version that’s quite well designed. (Notice the cool widgets.) I have been playing it lately in an effort to improve my working memory. It’s funny, though: at about sequence length of 13, I can feel my buffer overflow. There’s a quite noticable sensation of what might be called “unconcentration” at this sequence length.

So far, I’ve played Simon Extreme once every morning for 16 days. My best performance is 13, my worst 6, and the median is 10.44. I’m trying to do this “intuitively”—not using any mnemonic aids or strategies. Just brute force memory. Here’s a pseudoscientific chart of current performance, complete with trendline, based on a meager n of 16:

Screenshot 01-1

We’ll see what happens. Of course, perhaps a better way to improve working memory is writing:

In the two experiments described above, people who wrote about a stressful experience showed improvements in their ability to concentrate, measured by a standard test of working memory capacity. Our explanation for this finding is that our memories for negative or traumatic experiences are often fragmented and disorganized, like pieces of a nightmare. When we write about these experiences, our memories gradually become more coherent and story-like, allowing us to understand what happened and better deal with the emotions surrounding the experience. Once we are able to ‘re-package’ our stressful memories into a story, isolated fragments of these memories are less likely to come unbidden to our conscious minds. We do not forget traumatic experiences but expressive writing can transform our memories so that we are not continually upset by unwanted thoughts about traumatic or stressful events.

But I’ll continue the Simon Extreme experiment for a while and see what happens.